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#################### Geoff Seidner
Monday, 22 June 2015
David Thodey, James Packer sign on for Square Peg venture
Retiring Telstra chief executive David Thodey plans to join billionaire James Packer in working with the Paul Bassat-led venture capital firm, Square Peg Capital, to pursue more investments in Israel.
The company intends to spend $US150 million ($193m) over the next three to five years in venture and growth-stage online and technology companies.
Square Peg last week took a delegation of 40 leading Australian technology entrepreneurs, investors and executives together representing more than $US150 billion in value to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem to learn about the Israeli hi-tech industry.
The delegation included Mr Packer and Mr Thodey as well as Rob Rankin, the chief executive of Mr Packer’s Consolidated Press Holdings; Evans & Partner founder David Evans; Carsales chief Greg Roebuck; Seek boss Andrew Bassat; Square Peg backer Justin Liberman, and his cousin Josh Liberman.
UBS Australia chief executive Matthew Grounds and Stockland director Carol Schwartz are also investors in Square Peg.
During the trip the firm announced its fourth investment in an Israeli company, leading a $8.1m Series B equity raising for technology firm JethroData, in partnership with existing investor Pitango Venture Capital.
Square Peg’s other Israeli investments over the past year have been in early-stage storage and database softwear technology businesses, the first being Feedvisor, the world’s first algorithmic pricing and business intelligence platform for online retailers.
Mr Packer, who has bought a property in Tel Aviv and divides his time between the Israeli capital and the US, said he was keen to do more with Mr Bassat and Square Peg in the Israeli tech scene. He also does business in Israel with Hollywood film producer Arnon Milchan. “The trip has strongly reinforced my view of the investment opportunities and incredible tech ecosystem in Israel,” Mr Packer toldThe Australian from Tel Aviv. “I am in Israel meeting new people and Paul (Bassat) is certainly someone I want to do more with, but we are just wetting our feet here.”
The delegation met Iscar chairman Eitan Wertheimer, who recently sold 20 per cent of his company to US investment legend Warren Buffett for $US2bn.
It also met Check Point founder Gil Shwed, leading hi-tech founders of Waze, Outbrain and ironSource, as well as many other entrepreneurs, government officials, investors, incubators and accelerators, including the president of the Weizmann Institute, Daniel Zajfman.
The trip was the first to Israel by Mr Thodey, who is looking to his life after Telstra when he retires as chief executive in August. He took the trip in a private capacity.
“I’ve always wanted to come here from a technology perspective and to understand what has driven such innovation,” he said.
Mr Thodey is not yet an investor in Square Peg but says he has “always had a lot of time for” the group. “I really admire what they are doing. Paul and Andrew (Bassat) are reinvesting back into the sector. If there is some way I could help them, whether it is financial or not, I would like to,” he said.
Mr Thodey stressed he would not make any decisions on his future until the end of the year. But he added: “A big part of what I would like to be involved in is investing in start-ups and using the experience I have had to help companies get established, both financially and non-financially.”
Mr Thodey also met Mr Packer during his time in Tel Aviv. “David Thodey and I had a proper catch-up, which was great as I think he did a terrific job at Telstra,” Mr Packer said. Mr Thodey said the billionaire had “seen the incredible opportunity of what they call the ‘start-up nation’. He is keen to be a part of that.”
Evans & Partners founder David Evans, a Square Peg investor, said the start-up culture in Israel had “also been helped by a culture ‘that’s it’s OK to fail’.
“And second and third-time entrepreneurs get encouraged and embraced,” he said. Since its launch almost three years ago, Square Peg Capital has spent tens of millions of dollars on more than 20 investments in a range of start-up companies, largely in Australia.
They include taxi booking app goCatch, global ad data venture Standard Media Index, travel website Wego, US e-commerce group Shipping Easy and online beauty products supplier Bellabox.
It also took a stake in digital marketing company Rokt with News Corp’s Lachlan Murdoch, Hong Kong hedge fund manager John Ho and Greg Roebuck. Rokt is run by former Jetstar chief executive Bruce Buchanan.
Square Peg co-founder Dan Krasnostein moved to Tel Aviv last year to lead expansion plans. Former Cisco executive Arad Naveh has also joined Square Peg as a venture partner based in Israel. Paul Bassat said the firm was keen to build a successful business in Israel and wanted to build its network. “We have met entrepreneurs into their fourth and fifth ventures. There is a real can-do mentality and energy around solving really significant problems.”
Earlier this month Mr Bassat, who is also a Wesfarmers director, spent a week in Silicon Valley.
“There is a similarity in Israel to what is happening in the valley. People have an enormous ability to create a lot without a lot of resources.’’
Square Peg is also backed by investors such as Tony Holt, Barry Brott, Gavin Appel and Justin and David Liberman, who are not related.
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